Monday, November 12, 2007

Don't Fear the Yeast

The first time I ever attempted yeast bread was in 9th grade home economics. We were given a demonstration and then sent home with the recipe and instructed to make the bread entirely by ourselves and come back to the next class with our loaves for grading. I was a good student who always did her homework so I started my bread as soon as I got home from school.

My mother gave me permission to use the kitchen, except her loaf pans were already in use. But she did have mini loaf pans available. That was fine. I was already learning to be flexible, an invaluable survival trait for baking.

Then I remembered that I was scheduled to babysit that evening. The mother for whom I sat regularly had no problem with me bringing homework along. In fact, I think she would have been OK with just about anything so long as she got out of the house. When I asked if I could bring along my baby bread loaves and bake them in her oven, she happily said yes.

So, I set my little loaves out to finish rising. In between bathing the little girl and getting her into bed, I stuck the loaves into the oven and set the timer. Do you see where this is going? Unfamiliar oven, transported loaves, and not knowing that you should alter the baking time for mini loaves. Yes, I had 6 charred bricks.

I took the least blackened loaf, tried to scrape off the especially burnt bits and handed it in for a very bad grade. Oh, woe is me! My teacher was sympathetic to my plight, but sympathy won't leaven a dense, black, loaf that's more weapon than foodstuff.

This bad start to breadmaking put me off further attempts until after I was married. Many years and much baking later I have now conquered my fear of yeast and have many a fine loaf of bread under my belt. (No, no, don't look - that's not polite!). But I am still searching for the perfect loaf. One that doesn't require 3 days to make. One that is reliable. And one that is delicious.

In my quest for the perfect loaf I'll try new recipes, use them for a while, and then tire of them. I'm still looking for the perfect recipe, but in the meantime, this one is pretty darn good. Tall, snowy loaves, easy to make, and a consistency that's good for toast, sandwiches, and just happy eating. And I love that it makes two loaves as my family will inhale a loaf of bread fresh from the oven and then say in an unhappy, bewildered voice, "Where's the bread? I can't make a sandwich without bread."

One of the most important aspects to yeast breadmaking is to treat your yeast with TLC (tender loving care). Be sure your yeast is not too old (check the date on the package, if that's how you buy your yeast. I buy mine in bulk because I go through a lot of yeast and I store it airtight in the refrigerator), as this will also adversely affect the happiness of the yeast. Old yeast gets tired and doesn't do the job. Yeast is fussy about three things: temperature, moisture, and it's food. To wake it up from it's slumber, you need to give it a warm bath (not too hot, not too cold) and then a snack. When it's tub is bubbly, you're good to go!

Honey White Bread
adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home

1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees F.- use a thermometer to check until you're familiar with what this feels like)
2 packages dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1-1/2 cups warm whole milk (110 degrees F.)
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1-1/2 Tbsp honey
2 extra-large egg yolks
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp kosher salt
1 egg white, lightly beaten

Place the water in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment in place. If the bowl is cold, be sure the water temperature doesn't drop below 110 degrees. Add the yeast and sugar; stir and allow to dissolve for 5 minutes. You should see bubbles forming on the surface at this point.

Add the milk, butter, and honey. Mix on medium speed until blended. Add the egg yolks, 3 cups of the flour, and the salt. Mix on low speed for about 5 minutes. With the mixer still on low speed, add 2 more cups of flour. Raise the speed to medium and slowly add just enough of the remaining flour so the dough doesn't stick to the bowl. When the dough forms a ball that comes away from the bowl, switch to the dough hook attachment. Knead on medium speed for about 8 minutes, adding flour slowly as necessary.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead by hand for a minute, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Grease a bowl with butter, put the dough in the bowl, then turn it over so the top is lightly buttered. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and allow it to rise for 1 hour, until doubled in volume.

Grease two 9 x 5-inch loaf pans with butter. Divide the dough in half, roll each half into a rectangle as wide as your loaf pan and twice as long. Roll it up into a log the width of your bread pan, and pulling just a bit so that you don't get big air bubbles inside. Pinch together the ends and edges. Place each seam side down, in a prepared pan. Cover again with the damp towel and allow to rise again for an hour, until doubled in volume.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When the dough is ready, brush the tops with the egg white and bake the breads for 40 to 45 minutes, until they sound hollow when tapped. Turn them out of the pans and cool completely on a wire rack before slicing. You may need a sharp bread knife to keep hungry family at bay while it cools. Or just give in and have raggedy pieces of bread, dripping with butter. That's not such a bad thing, either.


Deborah said...

Your bread is picture perfect!! I think I have gotten over my fear of yeast, but I am still not so good at making it look pretty. This recipe sounds wonderful!

Kelly-Jane said...

Your bread is really top notch, well done!

fanny said...

This is such a lovely story, to which I can totally relate.

Your bread looks delicious - moist and fluffy.


Chelsea said...

I have had bad luck in the past with yeast breads. I will try again, but I wills till be afraid until I get some success.

Anonymous said...

Your bread looks beautiful. Fresh bread is the best!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

As always Lynn your story is terrific. The loaf is fantastically beautiful! Perfect.

Peabody said...

I also talk nicely to my yeast too!

Anh said...

Lynn, this is so beautifully written, capturing the fear and 'beauty' of working with yeast. And yes, your bread is so wonderful.

Aimée said...

Good for you, Lynn, you couldn't be on a more noble search than the one for the perfect 'daily loaf'.
Good luck!

Gigi said...

Just beautiful. I am in awe of your wonderful looking bread.

Patricia Scarpin said...

I'm glad the poor burned loaves didn't stop you from baking with yeast again, dear Lynn!
This loaf is heavenly!

Amy said...

Wow you totally posted about something I have major stress!
You may have actually inspired me to attempt to make something with yeast!
The bread looks delicious!!

Happy Homebaker said...

What a lovely story! I love reading all your little stories that comes with each post :) How I wish I can have two slices of your bread for my breakfast!

Anonymous said...

Tomorrow is gonna be one of those stinking hot days, perfect for proofinf dough, so I've decided that I'll be making this! Just a couple of questions -

1. 110 degrees - I assume this is F and not C?

2. How many grams/ounces is in 2 packets of yeast? My yeast comes out of a tub so I've got to measure the stuff out

3. How on earth did you get such a shiny, sexy lookin' loaf???

Cookie baker Lynn said...

Deborah- Thanks! Practice makes better.

Kelly-Jane - Thanks, doll!

Fanny - Everything you make is lovely!

Chelsea - Practice helps. It also helps if you can find someone who'll eat all your mistakes without complaining.

Melinda - Agreed.

My Kitchen In Half Cups - Heady praise from the bread master!

Peabody - I smile thinking of you having a tete a tete with the yeast.

Anh - You're such a sweetie. I'd share my bread with you anytime.

Aimee- I'll let you know if / when I ever find the perfect recipe.

Gigi- Thanks, hon.

Patricia - Well, it did put me off for quite a while.

Amy - Go for it! The worst that could happen is you end up with blackened bricks. Then you have something to prop the door open with or throw at muggers. It's all good.

Happy Homebaker - It's nice that my little ramblings are appreciated.

Ellie - Thanks for the bread questions. Yes, the 110 degrees is F (wouldn't that be like "incinerate" in C?)

I did an online conversion and came up with 21.43 grams in 2 packets of yeast. Does that sound right?

The egg wash makes the loaf all shiny and sassy.

Have some fun baking!

Anonymous said...

I am so glad you didn't give up on yeast after the first experiment!
Your loaves are perfect looking. I make bread all the time, but it never looks perfect like yours.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying this tomorrow. I'm so excited!!